Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Fundamentalist - Sports Complex

President Eisenhower warned the USA of a "military-industrial complex," Pentagon entangled with lawmakers and corporations that supplied the military its machines.  These parties reinforced each others' beliefs and policy decisions, supported each others' interests, and insulated each other from alternative views.

What I detect today is more widespread, less selfish, yet maybe more corrosive to our Republic. 

It starts with confusion between "faith" and "belief." Thomas Aquinas long ago described faith as a way of knowing the world; an instrument, together with sense and reason, for an open mind to interpret both Scripture and experience.

"Belief" is, normally, a tentative intellectual acceptance of a provisional statement.  For the fundamentalist, there is nothing tentative or provisional about it.  If eternal life depends on "belief" that Jesus was Son of God, then it had better be a "certainty."  To allow for some of Scripture to be folk wisdom or poetic imagery is to put the rest of Scripture in doubt.  That's how a spokesman for the Southern Baptist convention could insist on NPR recently that belief in historical Adam and Eve is "central" to Christianity: in his mind, it's the first link in a chain that leads to Jesus.  

When that outlook is applied to policy, we get "belief" in "conservatism."  That used to mean agreement on certain principles that could be applied variously to different policy choices, allowing for weighing pros and cons.  Thus, Ronald Reagan advocated "amnesty," his own word, for illegal immigrants, because they, in their hard work and selfless sacrifice for their families, exemplified conservative values.  But Newt Gingrich's standing among conservatives in South Carolina has fallen since an ad played a clip of Newt's echoing Reagan on immigration, advocating a way for all Americans to afford health care, and acknowledging that human activity has something to do with climate change.  That's three wrong answers, and Newt suddenly isn't conservative enough for respondents to polls in South Carolina.

But there's a third element, here, made especially visible by the ascent of Tim Tebow.  With "John 3:16" inscribed in his eye-shadow, he draws attention to the fundamentalist fan base for football.  Being "for" a team means buying branded merchandise and deploring opponents.  Because it's just sports, there's license for vicious expressions in the sports arena.

I sense a confusion among these three belief systems:   We're "for" Christianity, "for" conservative values, and "for" our favorite team.  "For" shouldn't mean the same thing in all three contexts, but that's what I hear in public discourse, along with a long list of all the things we're "against."  As in sports, it's zero-sum:  a point on one side must hurt the other side. 

So Reagan's era of conservative principles and principled compromise has degenerated to an era of fundamentalist politics where denying any kind of victory to the other side is more important than, say, extending jobless benefits that all sides agree should be extended, remunerating doctors who treat Medicare patients in a way that all sides admit to be fair, or finding a way to pay for our wars that may involve taxation.  

It's nothing new for American partisans to ridicule compromise as "flip-flopping."  Horace Greeley launched his abolitionist newspaper with the printed boast that he would not compromise.   He opposed Lincoln, who eloquently defended compromise on the grounds that rule by a minority is unacceptable, and chaos is not an option. For Lincoln, that leaves one just and fair way to go:  rule by a majority enjoined by limits to respect the rights of the minority -- i.e., by negotiation and compromise.

The difference that I observe between then and now is only in the superficiality in expressions of this hot "no compromise" feeling.   Think of the big applause we heard in a roomful of Republicans when Governor Perry was asked about his state's record number executions:  Conservatives are "for" capital punishment, so, some in the crowd cheered their side's racking up points -- by putting someone to death.

So-called "conservatives" who claim to be "for" the Constitution and "against" compromise with the other party don't know their Constitution.  Built into the Constitution on a number of levels is the idea that truth and justice are arrived at only in the give and take of debate and negotiation.  That's the essential principle of the Constitution, expressed in the balance of Representatives and Senators, Congress and President, Federal Government and States, and a federal judiciary.

Daily I hear news clips of politicians who won't allow for compromise on policy or respect for opponents in politics:  how scary is that?

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